Interview'Iran in Syria is the most important issue for Israel today'

Lobbying against Iran deal, PM to ‘connect dots’ to Syria, UN envoy says

Netanyahu, expected to push Trump on nixing pact, will also devote UN speech to explaining how nuke deal allowed Tehran to meddle in Syria, Danny Danon says

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon speaks to the media prior to a United Nations Security Council meeting on the Middle East on May 11, 2017. (Mark Garten/UN Photo)
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon speaks to the media prior to a United Nations Security Council meeting on the Middle East on May 11, 2017. (Mark Garten/UN Photo)

NEW YORK — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will lay out a comprehensive case against Iran in his speech Tuesday at the United Nations, “connecting the dots” between the nuclear deal and Tehran’s desire to establish itself militarily on Israel’s northern border, Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said Sunday.

Netanyahu will make plain that in Jerusalem’s view the Iran nuclear pact must not be left intact, Danon said.

“The issue of North Korea is concerning, but we care about the Middle East. Iran will be major part of the prime minister’s speech, regarding the nuclear agreement but also what they are doing today in the region,” Danon told The Times of Israel.

Preventing Iran’s entrenchment on the Golan Heights, via its proxy Hezbollah, as part of an agreement to end the Syrian civil war “is the most important issue for Israel today,” Danon, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said.

This issue, which is expected to take center stage during Netanyahu’s speech, is intimately connected to the question over the future of the nuclear deal six world powers struck with Iran in 2015.

“Today, the Iranians have more funds, are able to send more troops and buy more weapons, support Hezbollah. It’s all connected,” Danon said. “I think the PM, who is an expert on that, will connect the dots. He will show the whole picture of what has happened since the agreement, and what its consequences are today.”

Said Danon: “I think that today people in the world realize that once we speak about a threat [that we face], eventually it will become their own threat.”

Netanyahu, scheduled to speak at the UN a day after his third meeting with US President Donald Trump, will argue that the nuclear deal needs to be amended or scrapped altogether, Danon predicted.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 71st session of United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on September 22, 2016. (AFP/Jewel Samad)

“You will hear from the prime minister that something must be done. We were not supportive of this agreement from the beginning, and we still are of the opinion that it’s a bad agreement,” he said.

Trump has indicated he will declare Iran noncompliant with the deal in a statement to Congress next month, but is thought unlikely to completely dismantle the agreement, which he had called “one of the worst deals ever” while on the campaign trail.

Danon said he was unaware about reported disagreements between Israel’s political and military leadership about whether it was wise to renegotiate the agreement now.

“The government of Israel’s policy is that it’s a bad agreement and we call on the international community to take action about it. That’s the position of the government of Israel, and the prime minister will stress it. When you come to the implementation of the changes, you can argue how to do, when to do it — but you cannot leave it intact.”

PM Netanyahu (L) sitting next to Yossi Cohen in 2015 (AFP photo/Gali Tibbon

According to a Channel 2 report Sunday, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen is leading Israel’s “hawkish line” on Iran, calling for immediate action to ensure that Tehran cannot attain the bomb.

Other Israeli security officials, the report said, however, are warning that Israel should not be pushing the US into another Middle Eastern adventure, given what happened when the US tackled Iraq and Saddam’s supposed weapons of mass destruction over a decade ago.

On Monday, Netanyahu will reportedly present Trump with a comprehensive plan on how to either cancel or change the nuclear pact. His proposal will detail how “to cancel or at the very least introduce significant changes” to the accord, Channel 2 reported.

President of the UN General Assembly Miroslav Lajcak, left, with Vice President of the UN General Assembly Danny Danon, who is Israel’s ambassador to the global body. (Foreign Ministry)

On Tuesday, Netanyahu will be present when Trump delivers his first address to the UN.

Unusually, Netanyahu will also speak on Tuesday — the first day of the General Assembly — as he is leaving the US later that day in order to be able to arrive in Israel before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which starts on Wednesday evening.

According to UN protocol, the GA’s first day is reserved for heads of states — kings and presidents — while prime ministers only get to speak on Day 3 of the gathering.

“I worked hard in order for the prime minister to speak on Tuesday, because of Rosh Hashanah,” explained Danon, who last week began serving as the GA’s vice president. In that function, he will oversee the part of the Tuesday morning session during which Netanyahu will take the podium.

“It’s very hard to change protocol at the UN. You have so many countries, so many interests,” Danon said. “But I spoke to everyone, from the secretary-general (Antonio Guterres) to the president of the General Assembly (Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák) and dozen of other officials, to explain to them the significance of Rosh Hashanah, and the importance of the prime minister coming to speak at the UN.”

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